Mentoring program helps teens reach dreams
BY MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporter February 1, 2013 7:58PM
Left to right, Kwali Liggons and Torrence Moore. | Provided Photo
Updated: March 4, 2013 6:10AM
Torrence Moore remembers the moment he began to change his perspective on things.
His mentor, Art Massolo, now a retired banking and consulting executive, had taken Moore to his office at the First Chicago bank in downtown Chicago when Moore was 14.
The combination of being able to see downtown from Massolo’s 12th floor window and then later seeing where Massolo lived in Glencoe was an eye-opener.
“The exposure it gave me made me want to have a better life for myself,” Moore said.
With some guidance from Massolo, Moore went on to get a degree in economics from Massolo’s alma mater, Hamilton College in New York, and become a banker. He now runs his own financial company that assists small businesses, nonprofits and others, has a wife and two daughters and has guided six mentees of his own.
Massolo, 70, and Moore, 43, were connected through a program called LINK Unlimited, which pairs gifted but economically disadvantaged black eighth-graders with professional mentors. LINK Unlimited provides four-year high school scholarships and mentoring to get students ready for college.
Having met in 1984, Moore has since become a second son to Massolo, and the two have worked together at First Chicago and on the board of directors at both Hamilton College and LINK Unlimited. They still see each other about four times a year, sometimes in Florida, where Massolo now lives.
But both noted that the initial meeting was a bit awkward.
Moore, who now lives in the south suburbs, was raised by a single mother in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in the 1980s. When he was 16, his mother died from breast cancer, which resulted in him and his siblings being raised by their grandmother. It was a time when drugs and gangs were flourishing among poor youth; two of Moore’s brothers got involved with gangs and both spent time in prison. Moore said his mentor exposed him to alternatives to gangs and selling drugs. Massolo’s grandfather was from Sicily and was an “ardent socialist” who had come to the United States and saw how African Americans were often poorly treated in the 1920s and ’30s. Growing up with his grandfather’s influence made Massolo eager to get involved with LINK.
Massolo said he can take only “very little” credit for who Moore has become. But Moore says he’s just being modest.
“He put me in positions to see and do things,” Moore said. “I think that he deserves a lot of credit.”
Massolo estimates that he’s gone on to mentor 14 students in all, though he admits, “I’ve lost count.”
And, like Moore, others have gone on to make a name for themselves in different fields. The same has been true for Moore’s mentees.
For instance, Moore has watched how Kwali Liggons went from being a “shy, introverted child” to someone who “has come into his own.”
Liggons is a freshman at Claremont McKenna College in California, majoring in International Business and Chinese. He thinks he wants to become a diplomat.
Liggons said he got the idea after LINK sponsored a study abroad program in Hungary in July 2011.
Growing up in Calumet City, Liggons said he had a strong mother who provided him and his sister with everything they needed after their father died of cancer. Having Moore as a mentor opened Liggons up even more to new experiences, new connections to other people and new thoughts about finding a career.
“Torrence helped contribute to the person I have become,” Liggons said. “He has been here every step of the way.”
Moore said coming full circle first as a mentee and then a mentor has been gratifying.
“It’s just been a lifetime of joy for me,” he said.
January was National Mentoring Month. But there’s a year-round need for new mentors, as any mentoring group would be quick to point out.
To learn more about becoming a mentor, visit www.mentoring.org.